SATURDAY, SUNSHINE AND SPORTS CARS

Although it is cold and foggy at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Saturday morning, there’s plenty of visibility and the morning practice sessions (warm-ups) started on schedule at 8 am. All four groups race Saturday for the Continental Tire Sportscar Festival Powered by Mazda. As the morning wears on, the fog is lifting and there will be blue skies all around. Another great day for racing!

EDDIE LAWSON, four-time Motorcycle Grand Prix World Champion, won the World Superkarts race. That race preparation by DAN GURNEY did the trick. I spoke to ALEX GURNEY about his Dad’s interest in such vehicles. Gurney, whose team will start on the front row for the Grand-Am Rolex Series race, said his father is really keen on karts and working on them. Young Gurney said he went over to see Lawson’s kart and it was great to see the things that Dad had done.

Thirty-one of the thirty-six karts ran the race. Lawson’s best race time was 1:26.182, on the tenth of 14 laps.

Patrick Dempsey

Patrick Dempsey


The morning sessions were short – fifteen minutes. All 27 of the Rolex Series cars were on course. I asked DAVID DONOHUE/No.5 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype what does a driver or team accomplish in such a short session. “We run on a full tank, check out the bugs, more seat time to my co-driver DARREN LAW who didn’t have as much time in the car Friday etc. It’s a Hail Mary if we have to make a change.”

JOHN PEW/No.60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley DP was fastest overall and in class. LEH KEEN/No.59 Brumos Racing Porsche GT3 was fastest in the GT class. A car beached itself in the gravel and the session had to be black-flagged for the tow.

SFR SCCA Black Flagging

SFR SCCA Black Flagging


Friday during Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series qualifying, a Mini-Cooper lost a wheel in Turn Six and nose-dived into the gravel, which necessitated a lengthy and complicated rescue. The driver was OK, but the poor ST qualifiers got one lap of qualifying and the rest sitting on the grid waiting, and then the checkered flag.

There could be one less colorful car on the Rolex grid next season. Crown Royal has already notified Roush Racing in NASCAR that it will bot be renewing its sponsorship of MATT KENSETH’s No.17 Crown Royal Ford in the Sprint Cup Series. Pew and co-driver OSWALDO NEGRI are sponsored by Crown Royal. Team Owner, MICHAEL SHANK said “There was one last black cloud event for us this week…Crown Royal announced that they have pulled out of most of their motorsports sponsorships for 2012. We are really sad to hear this news as they have been great partners for us over the last 2 years, we will miss them very much and thank them for all their support!”

No.60 Crown Royal Ford Riley

No.60 Crown Royal Ford Riley


The Rolex Series also has sponsorship from Crown Royal. The full name is Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16. It takes a Grand-Am marketing person to say what exactly a presenting sponsorship means, and what if anything will happen to the current Crown Royal presenting sponsorship.
Crown Royal transporter

Crown Royal transporter

YOUTH WILL BE SERVED

Ricky Taylor

Ricky Taylor

Two up and coming drivers have the pole position for their respective classes in Saturday’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race as the feature event at the Continental Tire Sportscar Festival Powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Makes one think of the old adage, Youth and Good Looks trump Age and Treachery – at least in this instance.

RICKY TAYLOR, 21, took his fourth consecutive pole this season Friday afternoon, with a lap of 1:20.429/100.173 mph in No.10 Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara. The four+ tenths of a second margin between Taylor and second-fastest driver, JON FOGARTY/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley was the biggest margin of Taylor’s four poles.

Fogarty lamented the margin, saying it was “four tenths of an eternity.” However, Fogarty still holds the record of seven consecutive pole positions set in 2007. He co-drives with ALEX GURNEY. They won the Rolex race in 2009, the last time Grand-Am raced on the 2.238-mile elevated road circuit.

The DP qualifying lap record at Laguna Seca was set in 2008 by DAVID DONOHUE – 1:19.843/100.908 mph.

Jon Fogarty

Jon Fogarty


Taylor credited his success to “mainly the chassis that has made the difference this year. We’ve gone in a completely different direction with a little bit of a change in the engineering staff, and that has led to some new ideas and just a different way of looking at things – not necessarily better, but just new ideas and applying things differently. It’s been a big help, having fresh, new ideas. I’m loving it.

Young Taylor, who races for his father, WAYNE TAYLOR, will start the race, and co-driver MAX ANGELELLI will finish. Grand-Am rules require the qualifying driver to start the race, and also that there be a pit stop in the first 45 minutes.

Ricky Taylor is second in DP laps led-176, behind teammate Angelelli. and the Sun Trust team is first in the DP Teams laps led.

Ricky Taylor doesn’t have to worry about being ‘carded’ as he doesn’t drink. And he’s too young to rent a car.

The top five qualifiers came from five different teams: Sun Trust Racing, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and third-fastest, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No.01 BMW Riley with points leading drivers SCOTT PRUETT and MEMO ROJAS.

Fourth and fifth were Doran Racing No.77 Ford Dallara/BRIAN FRISSELLE and HENRI RICHARD; and Brumos Racing No.5 Porsche Riley/Donohue and DARREN LAW.

No Rolex Series driver has ever won more than once at Laguna Seca.

Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis

A very youthful looking ANDREW DAVIS, 33, has the GT pole turning a 1:29.679/89.84 mph, not a record. This is his second GT pole, Davis has been running Grand-Am for the past ten years. He co- drives with LEH KEEN in the No.59 Brumos Racing Porsche GT3. Davis qualified twelfth overall, in a field of 27. Brumos Racing is second in the GT Teams standings.

Davis said “after three years of being very, very close to winning a pole, it’s great to win one. I’ve missed the pole a few times by as much as I got it by today (.14 seconds,) so I’m glad one fell our way.”

Second fastest in GT was WAYNE NONNAMAKER/No.42 Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8. Nonnamaker had the pole in the Road America race recently, and finished second. He hopes to reverse that this weekend by winning.

Wayne Nonnamaker

Wayne Nonnamaker


Third through fifth in GT were RONNIE BREMER/No.57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.R with ROBIN LIDDELL and JAN MAGNUSSEN; BORIS SAID/No.31 Marsh Racing Corvette with ERIC CURRAN; and SYLVAIN TREMBLAY/No.70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 with JONATHAN BOMARITO.

The GT qualifying lap record of 1:27.014/92.592 mph is held by NICK HAM set in 2008.

Ricky Taylor’s younger brother, JORDAN TAYLOR, is 19 and races with BILL LESTER in No.88 Autohaus Motorsports Camaro GT R. They are leading the Rolex GT Teams standings, and will start ninth in class, twentieth overall.

Eight of the 11 Daytona Prototypes have Riley Chassis. There are two Dallaras and one Coyote.
Engine manufacturers include four Fords, three each for Chevrolet and Porsche, and one BMW.

The GT field includes seven Mazdas, four Porsches, two Camaros, and one each BMW and Corvette.

All 27 Rolex Series cars qualified, and will take the green flag Saturday at 2:30 pm local time/5:30 pm ET, and shown live on SPEED. The race is a ‘sprint’ race, lasting two hours, forty-five minutes.

FAST AND FANATIC

Scott Pruett & Memo Rojas

Points Leaders Scott Pruett & Memo Rojas

The sun came out and it was beautiful at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca-mid-sixties. The stiff breeze kept it from being hot for the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda. For the most part, all the race cars behaved themselves fairly well, although there were some black flag all situations so the track could be cleared up.

The Sun Trust Racing No.10 Chevrolet Dallara driven by MAX ANGELELLI and RICKY TAYLOR was the fastest Daytona Prototype in the first Rolex Series practice, at 1:21.294/99.107 mph. Points leaders, SCOTT PRUETT and MEMO ROJAS/No.01 TELMEX BMW Riley were second, followed by JON FOGARTY and ALEX GURNEY/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley.

Jonathan Bomarito

Jonathan Bomarito


The fastest GT car was the No.59 Brumos Racing Porsche GT3 driven by LEH KEEN and ANDREW DAVIS, at 1:29.726/89.793 mph. Second in class were BILL LESTER and JORDAN TAYLOR (brother of Ricky and son of Sun Trust team owner, WAYNE TAYLOR); and local driver, JONATHAN BOMARITO of Monterey and team owner SYLVAIN TREMBLAY/No.70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 were third.

During the noon break, while fan laps were keeping the track warm, the Grand-Am Rolex Series drivers were holding autograph sessions in front of their respective transporters. There were crowds of eager people seeking photos and autographs from their favorite drivers. It was easy to spot where was actor and two-car race team owner, PATRICK DEMPSEY. He and the two Mazda drivers for his second car, DANE CAMERON and JAMES GUE/No.41 Dempsey Racing GT, had a huge queue; and Dempsey very obligingly posed for pictures with almost everyone who came through his line.

Patrick Dempsey

Patrick Dempsey


Dempsey drives No.40 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8 GT with JOE FOSTER and CHARLES ESPENLAUB. Foster is also racing in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series – No.15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang Boss 302R GS, co-driving with SCOTT MAXWELL. Foster and Maxwell were the fastest in the CTSCC Grand Sports class in their first practice session. SARAH CATTANEO, one of two female drivers in Grand-Am this weekend, and co-driver OWEN TRINKLER were the fastest Street Tuner CTSCC car in No.198 RSR Motorsports Mini Cooper.

Dempsey has been working long and hard to film GARTH STEIN’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, which has been on best seller lists for the past two years. Dempsey will play the lead role, driver DENNY SWIFT, when Universal Studios finds a director and can start the filming – hopefully this fall.

James Gue and Dane Cameron

James Gue and Dane Cameron


The Chip Ganassi drivers, Pruett and Rojas, seated next to the Mazda drivers, also had long lines.

MIKE COOPER/No.6 AMG was the fastest driver in the first of two practice sessions for the SCCA Pro Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup R6 driver at 1:42.289/78.655, which topped JUSTIN HALL/No.4 AMG Racing in the second session with 1:43.708/77.687 mph. Cooper was first overall in the combined times.

The Grand-Am cars have another practice before their late-afternoon qualifying.

SUNNY, SAFE AND SANE LAGUNA SECA

Foggy Laguna

Foggy Laguna 7:45am

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca should have its own listing with the National Weather Service. It has weather inside its bordering hills that is unlike that which surrounds it. It can be fogged into the ground in Monterey and Salinas, but turn off Highway #68 and drive up the steep hill to get to the elevated road course circuit and it’s another whole world. Thursday for the well-subscribed Grand-Am test day, reaching the top of the hill was bright sunshine. Friday morning same scenario around the track – ground fog. This time it was inside the track, so dense that for awhile one couldn’t see from one turn to the next – the criteria for go/no go on the track. However, the sun came through, fog started to lift and Friday’s first practice session at 8 am was on time. By 9 am it was gorgeous and was all day.
Sunny Laguna

Sunny Laguna 8:30 am


There are several groups running this weekend for the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda: Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, and World SuperKarts. The Festival is a two-day weekend, Friday and Saturday.

The Rolex Series field just increased by two Friday morning with the last-minute entry of the two PETER BARON Starworks cars, No.2 Porsche Riley with RYAN DALZIEL starting and co-driving with ALEX POROW; and No.8 Ford Riley with MIKE FOREST starting and Dalziel finishing. Grand-Am rules state a driver can only earn points in the starting car. There are now eleven Rolex Daytona Prototypes, and 16 GT cars.

The CTC group has 53 cars entered in its two classes, Grand Sports (29) and Street Tuner (24.) All of them were on track for the Thursday test session, which went well – very safe and sane.

Seventeen Mazda’s are entered in the MX-5 Cup race.

World Superkarts has 37 entrants in the World Superkarts, including EDDIE LAWSON, four-time Grand Prix Motorcycle World Champion, and the 2009 Australian Super-kart Champion – SAM ZAVAGLIA. The time sheets for this group is interesting, as not all karts have transponders, and others are running numbers different from the entry.

“Steady Eddie” had his kart prepared by none other than DAN GURNEY, who so enjoyed the job. Lawson said the kart is awesome, and Gurney called Lawson after the first Friday morning session to find out how it did. He was third at 1:27.654, although his kart number doesn’t match the entry list. The top kart was J.R. OSBORNE of Colorado, at 1:26.796.

All classes have a couple of practice sessions, and end the day with their respective qualifying sessions. They all race Saturday.

VARIATIONS ON A THEME

Mixed classes race cars
Photo by Mark Weber

No.69 SpeedSource Ham Sandwich

No.69 SpeedSource Ham Sandwich.
Photo by Lynne Huntting

Several things many drivers mentioned, when paraded through the Daytona International Speedway Media Center – aggressive driving, littered track, and problems with right rear tires.

To a man, all drivers had comments on the driving skills of others out on the track in the early hours of the 49th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Most of the drivers were from the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype class.

The comments ran the gamut from polite and diplomatic to downright colorful. All expressed surprise that drivers were being that aggressive so early on and so consistently.

SCOTT PRUETT/No.02 Ganassi Racing BMW Riley DP didn’t mince words. He started right in. “It’s crazy out there, people going off everywhere. I’m running cautious. It’s so crazy so early – why? I don’t really understand. It’s common for some new drivers to try and proof themselves. But they’re running aggressive for no reason. There have been six or seven spins, cars running into other guys in the Bus Stop (turn). I’ve had to dodge spinners and over-drivers. It’s been pretty hectic already.”

Regarding the tire situation, he said “We have to address of right rear camber, noticed it at the test. new tire and new surface, a bit more wear. ”

Pruett was impressed at the full Media Center, more than he’s ever seen for the 24 hour.

DARIO FRANCHITTI/No.02 Ganassi Racing said after his first stint “It was absolute madness at the start. Why is it so crazy so early. There is some aggressive driving out there. No one is leaving anyone any margin. Even the experienced guys aren’t, and some guys don’t know what they’re doing. I have to do some pretty strange moves to get past cars. It’s pretty intense. We’re going to earn our money tonight. There’s more carbon on the track than ever seen two hours into the race.

We had the problem, same as 99, with right rear. It’s heat and it’s not just us. The car handles better now, after we changed the camber.

“Our problem stems back to last year. BMWs engines pulled back to manipulate the speed of the others. They took 100 rpm from us. It’s frustrating to have other cars pull away from us on the front straight.

No.10 Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara.

No.10 Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara.
Photo by Mark Weber

MAX ANGELELLI/No.10 Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara said “I was surprised with myself, the 45 (Pole Sitter Flying Lizards Porsche Riley DP) was extremely fast. This is why I said to myself’I have to be patient. The 45 was extremely fast. There was no way for me to get around him. He had a good top speed. And tried at the beginning, the first two, three laps, but then I gave up. But, it’s 24 hours.”

Angelelli denied being more cautions to avoid jeopardy for his co-drivers. “No, I’m actually pretty relaxed when I’m first because I’m leading the race, I command the race.”

Angelelli said it was hot in the car, which had been set up for colder weather.

ALEX GURNEY/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Chevrolet Riley said he had an issue with the right rear tire. We had been debating something on our setup, and I think we were a little too aggressive with the way we set up the cambers, maybe the bars, things like that. Maybe we just missed it a bit. I think we saw the No.02 blew a right rear, so the track, for whatever reason is putting a load into that butt end.

Gurney wasn’t as concerned about the early aggressive driving. “It is just the usual deal. I feel like it is that way every year here.

JIMMY JOHNSON/No.99 GAINSCO said the car was having some unusual brake problems. “I need to pump it multiple times or it will go to floor. It’s disappointing to have issues early, but other teams have had problems. A well placed caution will help us to fix our problem.”

“The last four or five laps I had two moments and I couldn’t get the pedal back while braking, horseshoe and Turn Five. I felt that might be coming when I got out. I had to be more aggressive in pumping the pedal and it was fading when I got out.

While Johnson was speaking, the monitor was showing his team in the garage thrashing away on the car.

GT cars

GT cars.
Photo by Mark Weber

Regarding the wild and crazy driving and whether it compared to a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Johnson said “It’s tough in these cars for several reasons. One, you’re not sure who’s in the car ahead. After you yell and scream a few times on the radio, they say, ‘Well, that’s so and so’ and I don’t really know these guys well enough to understand what that means, but I can tell in the inflection in m crew chief’s voice a few times that I should be expecting that from a few guys. And the other thing, it is so hard to not just turn someone around and get rid of then. With theCup car, you can do that easily. These cars, it will end your day. So, I had to stop myself a few times. And after two or three times of being there and getting copped — I’m like, ‘Man, if you were in a Cup car you’d be sitting there back in right now I miss that aspect of Cup cars. If KEVIN HARVICK was in one of these, I think he would just run ‘em over.”

It’s tough to get upset between the two classes. I can’t imagine what it must be like; it is a full time job for GT’s staying out of the way. DP cars multiple laps down were racing harder than need be and hit GT’s in their quest.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.02 Ganassi Racing BMW Riley DP hit RICKY TAYLOR/No.10 Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara. Taylor came into the garage for damage repair. Driver change. Angelelli went out, and told the team via radio the car was fine.

Taylor said “I got stuck behind the No. 99 car for awhile, just trying not to take any risks. I got into a little bit of a dice with (Juan Pablo) Montoya and I was on the outside of him, pretty conservatively, I just felt a big hit on the side. I gave him plenty of room. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Regarding aggressive driving, Taylor said “A couple of drivers, but for the most part everyone is good. I don’t think anybody meant to do anything or anybody meant to block me or anything like that. I think that he just might not have known I was there. He was trying to pass a Porsche and I was already there and maybe he didn’t see me or something.”
When JPM pitted, there was a driver change with JAMIE MacMURRAY taking over. Montoya immediately went to his motor coach, with no comment.

NIC JONSSON/No.76 Krohn Racing Ford Lola said “There is a lot of debris out there. It’s amazing at how much people are racing already. wheel to wheel and parts are flying off the car. There have been four or five cautions and a lot of damage back in the garage.

Someone commented that it seems the drivers went to a sports car race and a NASCAR race broke out.

There were few more cautions early on. I don’t know why – maybe the new pavement was catching people out. It has more grip, I brake later. People go out on cold tires and spin.

The track in the line is quite good. They’re trying to keep it clean. I’ve had no trouble with a specific class. I’ve been lucky so far in not hitting or being hit.

Jonsson hasn’t had any right rear tire issues. “We have a new tire this year (Continental.) We tested last year, but this is a different tire. Maybe we haven’t had not enough miles on the tires to understand the issues. Too low tire pressure puts stress on the inside of the tire. On the roval, you can’t use traditional camber as the car heats up and can’t stand the load.”

BRENDAN GAUGHAN/No.67 TRG Porsche GT said, six hours after the start of the race that “It’s still wild and crazy out there, with GT cars banging on each other. This was six hours after the start.

No.99 GAINSCO

No.99 GAINSCO.
Photo by Lynne Huntting

No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing spent a long time in the garage working on the brake issues.

No.69 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 driver, NICK HAM, said two cars made a Ham sandwich out of him. One car, he said, was No.48 Paul Miller Racing Porsche GT3 which then hit another car and Ham was caught in the middle. There are mechanical as well as cosmetic damages to repair.

No.43 Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8 was in the garage, with not much going on. A crew member said the driver, owner JOE SAHLEN, just came in. He’s going back out. A Couple of the tires were being observed but not much else.

Meanwhile several stalls down in the GT garage, No.81 DragonSpeed Ferrari 430 Challenge GT was having all sorts of things checked. One crew member said he thought it might be wheel bearings. In that stall was at least one Team Sahlen member.

A PR spokesman for Continental Tires – the official (spec) tire of Grand-Am, said he was told by the company that the camber issue is with camber settings the teams used. Continental doesn’t give recommendations, but does provide feedback.

The wrong camber, I’m told, means there is too much heat on the shoulder of the tire, which causes problems.

Another issue has been the tire pressure. The Continental spokesman said No.02 was running lower than the approved tire pressure, 18 pounds rather than 22 pounds. Cars can start out cold with pressure too low.

Another explanation for the tire problems could be debris or contact, said the Continental spokesman.

Flying Start!

Rolex 24 DP Start

Rolex 24 DP Start. Photo by www.hendricksportsphoto.com

It was a flying start for the 49th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Forty-eight Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototypes and GTs took the green flag in near-perfect Florida weather. Pole sitter JORG BERGMEISTER.No.45 Flying Lizards Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype took off and away they all went.

One car withdrew prior to the race – No.11 TPN Racing/Blackforest Ford Mustang GT hit the wall Friday and damaged the right rear wheel. Possibly additional mechanical problems could have prompted the withdrawal – the team isn’t on site to ask. Canadian veteran driver, DAVID EMPRINGHAM qualified the car which was slated for a P40 start in the race. The co-drivers were SCOTT MAXWELL, and TOM NASTASI.

Rolex 24 GT Start

Rolex 24 GT Start. Photo by www.hendrickmotorsports.com

The first caution came five minutes into the race – RANDY POBST/No.86 Mitchum Motorsports Porsche GT3 hit the wall and suffered mostly cosmetic damage, which was repaired in the garage. Returning to the track, the car was P47 at the end of the first hour.

Car No.86 in garage for repairs

Car No.86 in garage for repairs. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Later in the first hour both Chip Ganassi BMW Riley’s were uncharacteristically in the pits. SCOTT PRUETT in No.01 was experiencing gear problems, and the gear cluster was changed. SCOTT DIXON in No.02 lost pressure in right rear tire and limped into the pits. There was no driver change as the course was under caution. He went out and came back in so DARIO FRANCHITTI could get in. All drivers will be pulling one stint before the rotation begins again. Dixon commented that he wasn’t used to only one stint at the start.

Dixon said his mindset is its better to get over the problems early. He was confident that the team could catch up once the tires had 30 laps on them, as that’s when the tire wear got good for them, while other cars fell away. When the engine cools his car goes better. His No.02 car would probably change gears during the night.

Dixon admitted he fumbled at the start, but caught up. He did comment that the Fords and Chevy’s had more front-line speed than his BMW

In walking the grid prior to the race, I noticed the difference in windscreen tear-off shields on the cars. One car, No.70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 had seven, No.40 had four and No.43 Team Sahlen had three.

One car had its own interior in-car camera which the team said would take about an hour of video before running out.

Dempsey Racing No.40 Mazda RX-8 has two in-car cameras – the traditional roof-mounted camera, and also one in the right corner of the windscreen, pointed at the driver.

At the end of the first hour, the leaders were: Pruett/No.01 DP and Magnus Racing No.44 Porsche GT3.

FIFTY WAYS TO FIND A WINNER

Race Day Garage Crowd

Race Day Garage Crowd. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Autograph Seekers

Autograph Seekers. Photo by Lynne Huntting

It’s Saturday at Daytona International Speedway and it’s warm and sunny, with a nice breeze. The weather is picture perfect and there are people with cameras and smart phones everywhere for the 49th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, put on by the Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series.

The Rolex drivers are all lined up around the Quad, table by table, team by team, signing autographs and posing for pictures with the multitudes of fans.

Dempsey Racing's Autograph Table

Dempsey Racing's Autograph Table. Photo by Lynne Huntting

One new face at the table is Indycar driver, E.J. VISO, who officially added to the last minute Daytona Prototype entry of Starworks – its third car. The drivers when the car late entered Thursday were ENZO POTOLICCIO, ALEX POPOW, ROMAIN INNATE, and GLYNN GEDDIE. Viso said he got the call Wednesday night and flew in Thursday in time for a few laps of night practice. The car was qualified by Potoliccio, and will start sixteenth.

JOIE CHITWOOD, President of Daytona International Speedway, announced that the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona will be celebrating its Golden Anniversary, complete with new gold logo and focus. The goal is to locate and invite every one of the past winning cars and drivers whenever possible. The theme is “Where in the World are the Rolex Winning Cars?”

The location of many past winners is known, and a team is already in place working on locating the ones which haven’t been found. Today’s announcement is an open invitation for the start of that search for those who have participated over the years.

Chitwood was smilingly mum about what kind of Rolex watch will be given to next year’s winners – we’ll have to come and see. He did hint it would be a special watch.

Chitwood promised that this would be a story line all year long, with stories on each car and people, as they are found. Makes me think of a famous song, with a new title – Fifty Ways to Find a Winner.

The in-car cameras for the Rolex 24 have been determined, six for each of the two classes.

01 – Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley – SCOTT PRUETT, MEMO ROJAS, GRAHAM RAHAL, JOEY HAND

02 – Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley – SCOTT DIXON, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, DARIO FRANCHITTI, JAMIE McMURRAY

7 – Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley- JAN HEYLEN, DOUGLAS PETERSON, R.J. VALENTINE, JARED BEYER, SCOTT MAYER

10 – Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara – MAX ANGELELLI, WAYNE TAYLOR, RICKY TAYLOR, BRISCOE

55 – Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley – SCOTT TUCKER, CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT, LUIS DIAZ, MARK WILKINS

95 – Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley – RYAN HUNTER-REAY, SCOTT TUCKER, RICHARD WESTBROOK, RAPHAEL MATOS

GT:
40 – Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8 – CHARLES ESPENLAUB, JOE FOSTER, PATRICK DEMPSEY, TOM LONG

66 – TRG Porsche GT3 – DOMINIK FARNBACHER, TIM GEORGE Jr, BEN KEATING, LUCAS LUHR

67 – TRG Porsche GT3 – ANDY LALLY, STEVEN BERTHEAU, BRENDAN GAUGHAN, WOLF HENZLER, SPENCER PUMPELLY

69 – SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 – JEFF SEGAL, EMIL ACCENTUATE, NICK HAM, ANTHONY LAZZARO, NICK LONGHI

86 – Mitchum Motorsports Porsche GT3 – RANDY POBST, JOEY ATTERBURY, COOPER MacNEIL, DEREK WHITE, BILLY JOHNSON

94 – Turner Motorsports BMW M3 – BORIS SAID, BILL AUBERLEN, PAUL DELLA LANA, MATT PLUMB

WHERE IS THE PAUSE BUTTON?

The dilemma I face at races, especially the Grand-Am Rolex 24 at Daytona, is having enough time to do it all – observe, interview, photograph and write. There’s never enough time and often activities overlap, causing confliction syndrome. And where’s the time to write properly if the other activities are done well. So I ask… where’s the Pause Button?

Justin Bell/SPEED, Scott Pruett, Chip Ganassi

Justin Bell/SPEED, Scott Pruett, Chip Ganassi.
Photo by Lynne Huntting

Friday at Daytona International Speedway had a buzz – a different atmosphere from Thursday’s very long day with lots of track time and acclimation efforts.

The teams used Thursday to play ‘Getting to Know You, to Know All About You’ – with the cars, the drivers, the new track surface, and the interaction, chemistry and dynamics of a working team. Most of the teams were running with their Practice or Qualifying engines.

Soon after Qualifying many teams went to work on changing to their race engines. Most (45 of 49 cars) ran Night Practice for the experience – either to brush up or meet the Rolex Rookie obligation to run at night before the actual race. One notable exception to run was the Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley Daytona Prototypes. The team was making some changes that took the whole session.

The Rolex Garage closed at 9:30 pm, an hour after Night Practice ended, insufficient time to complete an engine change. So small wonder there were only 24 cars on course for the first of two Friday morning Practice sessions. – four DP’s and the rest GT cars.

Business picked up for the final Rolex Series practice, with 44 of the 49 entries on track.

Quick summary of those sessions: In Night Practice, A.J. ALLMENDINGER/No.6 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Ford Dallara was fastest DP, with BORIS SAID/No.94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 as the fastest GT.

For the sparsely attended Friday morning session, SCOTT PRUETT/No.01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley was back on top after sitting out Night Practice, and the Brumos Racing Porsche 911 was the fastest GT, in fifth place.

Things picked up, figuratively, not literally for the final session for JON FOGARTY/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley the top DP of all 18 on track. GT driver CRAIG STANTON/No.44 Magnus Racing Porsche was fastest in his class.

Reba McEntire, mother of CTCS Driver, Shelby Blackstock - who was at the Driver's Meeting

Reba McEntire, mother of CTCS Driver, Shelby Blackstock - who was at the Driver's Meeting.
Photo by Lynne Huntting

Friday was the day for a string of Press Conferences, announcements, pit tours, and more people showing up, some to be seen in the scene. It was getting closer to race day and the tempo picked up. It was buzz.

After each track session, the Rolex Series garage area was packed for an hour or so. It was almost rock-star fan crazy Friday with spectators crowding into every available spot, while teams with race cars, war wagons, tire carriers and other pit paraphernalia tried to wend their way through the masses. Vehicles were coming and going in every direction and I felt I needed a rear view mirror to protect my back. Serious lack of traffic control. People everywhere.

It all died down after an hour or so and several teams practiced their driver changes, which was fascinating to watch. One driver gets out, another gets in and a specified person is facilitating this – often the Crew Chief. More of his backside is seen than either of the drivers as he tucks in the driver and connects him up with belts, seats, harnesses, transponders, radio, etc. Each driver has a personal transponder which allows his name to be shown on the Timing & Scoring monitor when he is in the car. I keep saying he as there are no female drivers in the Rolex 24 this year.

MARTIN BRUNDLE/No.23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley has not raced at Daytona since 1990 when he came in second. There’s no rust falling off him. Brundle qualified the car Thursday and will start the race in ninth place in a field of 18 Daytona Prototypes. He won the race overall in 1998. Brundle hasn’t raced professionally – at least big time racing – for ten years. He has done some local 40-lap races with his son.

After Brundle’s driver change practice with teammates MARK BLUNDELL, MARK PATTERSON, and team owner, ZAK BROWN, Brundle confirmed a story I’d heard about how he got in driving mode after sleeping between endurance racing stints. TOM RYAN, a personal friend of Brundle from his home town – with nutrition and fitness background, worked out a getting-back-into-driving focus program for Brundle when he was racing with Jaguar. After waking up, Brundle (and his co-drivers) would work out on a stationery bike and punching bag – to get them into fighting mode, so to speak.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!

One special activity Friday at Daytona International Speedway was the Rolex 24 at Daytona Champions photo shoot in Victory Lane. Talk about a Class Photo! There were 43 former overall Rolex 24 race winners, former Rolex Daytona Prototype and GT champions, and wild cards – drivers with experience in F1, Indycars and NASCAR. Click on the photo to see it up close and personal. Then, at least for Mac lovers, for an even better view, command + will increase the magnification to your liking.

Photo by www.hendricksportsphoto.com

FIRSTS AND LAST

Pole Sitter Flying Lizards

Pole Sitter Flying Lizards. Photo by Mark Weber

Thursday afternoon there were a series of ‘firsts’ for the Grand-am Rolex Series Sports Cars at Daytona International Speedway, ramping up for Saturday’s 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race.

The top eight Daytona Prototypes provisionally broke the existing track record of 1:40.540/127.472 mph set by DAVID DONOHUE in 2009. Pole sitter JORG BERGMEISTER/No.45 Flying Lizards Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype turned a 1:48.009/118.113 mph. He was running a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR engine with no restrictors, from Porsche North America in Santa Ana, CA. This is the first foray into the DP class for Flying Lizards, who have entered the Rolex 24 in the past, but in the GT class. The team, based at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma CA, runs the ALMS Series and Bergmeister and co-driver PATRICK LONG are the 2010 ALMS GT champions. Bergmeister has won overall at the 2003 Rolex 24 in another team’s Porsche 911; and GT class wins in 2002 and 2009.

Bergmeister’s teammates are a trio of California boys, PATRICK LONG SETH NEIMAN and JOHANNES van OVERBEEK

Bergmeister said he was used to running the engine and said it was the best engine for this race. He conceded that having the pole “For the race outcome it doesn’t mean anything.” But it does bring bragging rights – “especially for us as a new team to show how good we are.”

Bergmeister had wanted to come in when he ran what he felt was his fastest lap, but the team told him to stay out, and that was the lap which set the pole.

Max Angelelli

Max Angelelli. Photo by Lynne Huntting

MAX ANGELELLI/No.10 Sun Trust Racing Chevrolet Dallara DP was second in Qualifying, 0.034 seconds behind the tall German, after leading himself for quite a few laps. Angelelli was fastest overall for the weekend in the practice sessions leading up to Qualifying. His best time was 1:40.340/127.726 mph. The Sun Trust team is running a Chevrolet, which is getting involved in the Rolex Series for the first time since its inception in 20000. Previously GM had run the Pontiac brand, until it was discontinued. Angelelli was quite pleased with the new car. “We’re looking forward to this season. This Chevy-powered car – we’re going to be fast.”

SCOTT PRUETT/No.01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley DP, 2010 DP and OA Champion, was third overall.

There’s a reason the initial qualifying times are called provisional. The cars all have a mandatory post-qualifying scrutineering session, and this is where the illegalities cause cars to lose their qualifying time and start the race at the end of the class.

ANDY LALLY/No.67 TRG Porsche GT3 was the fastest GT car, seventeenth overall. He was one of five GT’s who eclipsed the existing track record of 1:49.282/117.275 mph. Lally was sharing the front row with teammate, DOMINIK FARNBACHER/No.66 TRG Porsche 911 GT.

However post inspection found Lally’s car to be illegal and he will start the race at the back of the GT class, which is also the end of the line. According to DAVE SPITZER, Grand-Am VP of Competition, Lally’s car had the ‘rear wing mounted too far to the rear.”

Lally didn’t see it that way and was clearly angry after tech. Initially his official comment was “No Comment.” Later, he said the measurement was only one millimeter. Lally did say on the record that “I will say the car was right and I feel bad for my crew who worked so hard.”

Lally had been fast all day, overall, in the Practice sessions.

In the end, TRG thought they had the GT front row locked up and they didn’t. Lally was only able to stick it out in the Media Center a very few minutes, before he had to jump into his Continental Tire Challenge Series car (No.10 Kinetic Motorsports Kia), where he qualified eighteenth in the Street Tuner class, fifty-first overall. The field has 58 entries.

Lally said he had a perfect lap and knew teammate Farnbacher would be his closest competitor.

Dominik Farnbacher/No.66 TRG Porsche

Dominik Farnbacher/No.66 TRG Porsche. Photo by Mark Weber.

DOMINIK FARNBACHER/No. 66 TRG Porsche ended up being the pole sitter. He said he had had no luck or draft, and couldn’t find anyone to play with him. Farnbacher said he had a problem with tire. always had to brake early to prevent lockup. However, it came out pretty well in the end, a faster lap than expected.

Farnbacher said cars will hardly have any problems with drive shafts this race, as the track is so smooth. We should see cars last better without incidents. The race will run lots smoother, overall The track is still green but actually had a lot of rubber for qualifying.

Farnbacher had originally been scheduled to ride in another car, but it didn’t work out and Buckler offered him a ride. “Maybe some spirit helped me make the right decision.”

In the GT class, three other cars besides the two TRG Porsches broke the GT qualifying record of 1:49.282/117.275 mph: for the first time. “We have not had one issue with or Camaro – so, so far, so good for a 24-hour event.” The other two were CRAIG STANTON/44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 and NICK TANDY/No.17 Burtin Racing Porsche GT3.

Level 5 BMW Riley DP's

Level 5 BMW Riley DP's. Photo by Mark Weber

The two Level 5 cars, No.95 BMW Riley DP and No.55 BMW Riley DP opted not to qualify. Team Engineer, JEFF BRAUN, said “It is what we feel is the best way to win this race. We don’t care about where we qualify we care where we finish.”

When asked to rate the new track surface at DIS, both Angelelli and Bergmeister gave it high marks. Angelelli said it was “smooth. He could go anywhere he wanted because it’s so smooth and beautiful.”

Bergmeister said “the track transitions better, much later brake points, and overall very nice job.” He also agreed with all that Angelelli said.

The weather was partly cloudy at 58 degrees F/14 C for DP qualifying, and 61 degrees F/16C for GT qualifying.

The day was relatively uneventful. Some cars stopped with mechanical woes, one started a grass fire, and there was one body contact. Safe and sane.